Long shots: breaking a losing streak (week 12)

Not a good week for results this week, with a win, a draw and three losses, but with Arminia getting the win, we’re back to no teams in the drop zone (though Arminia are still in the play off relegation spot).

Not bad for week 12…

Bundesliga: Arminia Bielefeld (5/6 on to be relegated) 2-1 at home to Mainz

After seven straight defeats in the league, Arminia badly needed a win, and with a run of mediocre teams coming down the line in their next few fixtures, getting some momentum in the run up to Christmas might be key to their survival this year.

This win dumped opponents Mainz into the relegation zone, and was most notable for a bustling performance from Japanese player Ritsu Doan, who scored a great solo goal and chipped in throughout.

That said, the opener for Arminia was a total fluke and they were fortunate to hold on at the end, but wins like this will be vital, and they’ll take it, especially when it breaks that losing streak.

AJ Wander: “The songs are quietly hopeful and speak frankly about navigating the emotional minefield that is relationships”

For most of us, 2020 has been a strange and ultimately perhaps a bit of a depressing year. With the pandemic hanging over us, there have been limited chances for creativity, fun or even career progression, and the world has felt loaded with tragedy.

For London-based songwriter AJ Wander, though, it might just have been the kick up the rear end he needed. Escaping a world of playing piano bars to make rent – that’s not an option anymore after all – he’s released his debut two singles instead, charming pop tracks full of emotion, entitled ‘Time Out’ and ‘Way We Walk’. Both are loaded with potential.

I caught up with AJ to reflect on a year crammed with change…

Congrats on what’s clearly been a very successful lockdown. How has all the contractual stuff come together for you?

Thank you! Itʼs definitely been a crazy time for me. I feel so lucky to have been able to take something positive from this year. I recorded a bunch of tracks with my friend and producer Brad Mair just before lockdown hit in March. I then sent out the tracks to a bunch of industry and subsequently spent much of lockdown in Zoom meetings.

At the end of summer I took on a great team that Iʼm so excited to be working with!

Can you tell me a little bit about what brought you to this point?

This has always been my dream situation…to be releasing music that means so much to me. Iʼve been singing for as long as I can remember, but the piano playing and writing kicked off for me when I was around 14. I joined a band called ʼTorsʼ whilst studying in Guildford in 2015. I spent an amazing few years with the band before leaving to pursue a solo career.

I must admit I got a little side-tracked after leaving the band and drifted into performing at piano bars and hotels in order to pay my rent. I spent two years playing covers for cash, whilst I was still writing during this time, I spent most days kicking myself for not putting my all into my own music.

Lockdown this year forced a shift in attention for me as gigging was no longer an option. I finally started focussing all of my attention onto my artist project which ultimately led me to the point I’m art now.

Paj: “I had a vivid sense of my place in the world and of starting a new phase even before lockdown”

Stepping out from the shadows into the limelight, Paj (a.k.a Paddy Groenland) – who has previously worked with everyone from Hozier to Ensemble Eriu – is slowly stepping out and starting to release music himself. Recent single ‘Superman’, for example, is a groovy ode to dealing with self-pressure and applying self-respect.

“I’d been messing with it since 2018 – a former Motown Records employee called the chorus ‘golden’ – and I had a basic demo.” Paj says of the track. “During lockdown, I was thinking about re-recording it. Fiachra Kinder was advertising that he wanted to lay down drum parts for people just to keep busy, I took him up on it and then it just spiralled. Joe Furlong and Uly agreed to play on it and my fellow Dutch/ Irishman Rob de Boer (whom I play bass for) and Zeenie Summers (who I play the guitar with) were enthusiastic to sing parts.” 

“I guess it has that nice combination of feel-good, kind of self-aware but with a relatable and useful message. The lyrics are for me really, telling myself not to be too ambitious, to not compare with others and to accept my mortality”

Paj released an EP entitled ‘Pastels’ last year, but life has been dramatic since, and he feels he’s moved on, almost to the point that he wants to forget it. It wasn’t about corona, either.

“A lot has changed,” he explains. “I cringe a bit now as my approach and message has developed. Earlier this year I was in Brazil with my wife and we had a transformative experience doing Ayahuasca and travelling in Brazil; I had a vivid sense of my place in the world and of starting a new phase even before lockdown.” 

Long shots: Pushing on against the odds (week 11)

What’s been most noticeable about this project so far is that, eleven weeks in, it’s been mostly not about losers, but about sides putting up real fight, about clubs that are below average for their league, typically, perhaps, but still performing.

Here’s the latest, with only one set to go down as it stands…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 2-1 away to Leicester

I didn’t give Fulham a lot of hope against high-flying Leicester away, to be honest, but they definitely are coming to handle the Premier League a bit better, and looking like a side that could be competitive in a few more games. This also closes the gap – that had been substantial – to anyone above 16th.

Lookman has probably been their best player so far his year in my view, and he threatened plenty here, and could have had a couple more. Leicester were dominant early on, though, and while Fulham held their own and eventually took over for periods, they were probably a little lucky.

Still, they’ve been due a bit of luck, and they’re back out of the bottom three. You’d have to assume Sheffield United will come back to life at some point, right?

The Battery Farm: “we write from the perspective of four lefty snowflakes watching the rise of nationalist populism”

A good indication of the kind of act The Battery Farm are is the title of their new EP, ‘ENDLESS UNSTOPPABLE PAIN’, formatted to include a knowing smiley face at the end of its title.

The Mancunian punks are a bitter, abrasive act, but with a lot of fun wedged between their slamming musical verdict on modern British society, and the rise of the hard right.

As they launch their debut EP, I asked vocalist Ben what it’s all about…

There’s something very openly morbid about your music. See ‘Maggot Line’ and ’97/91′ in particular. Talk me through what side of your personalities brings that out…

I’m prone to finding myself in pits of absolute black despair sometimes. Proper no-hope stuff. When I’m in those moods it causes me to really dwell on Human Beings’ capacity for animalistic brutality and the ways in which that brutality manifests itself. I also end up dwelling a lot on the bleakness of the situation we’ve created for ourselves. I’m a right laugh at parties.

Anyways, all this stuff manifests itself in a desire to create something stark and visceral. It drives me to try and articulate a lot of the fear and anger I feel about the present and future, and what’s been robbed from us as a generation, in the most unflinching way possible. Sometimes that ends up in an utter horror show like 97/91. It’s not intentional nihilism, it’s just an attempt to be honest. It’s all catharsis as well. It makes me feel better to put this stuff into words.

There’s obviously a certain worldview behind your music. What is the perspective you feel you’re writing from, mainly?

This is completely contrary to what I just said but I think we’re writing from a perspective of hope, ultimately. On the surface a lot of our stuff is really bleak but we write about what we write about because we hope that better is possible and want better to happen. More kindness, more equality, no corruption, an end to the parasitic wreckers in business and politics destroying everything for all of us. We want better. We all deserve better. We’re angry that we never get it.

I think we also write from the perspective of four lefty snowflakes watching the rise of nationalist populism. When all the values you hold dear – community, democracy, truth, equality – are being nakedly trampled on by bad, bad bastards it gives you plenty of desire to fight back. I suppose this band is how we do that.

Long shots: A dull-ish week (week ten)

No wins at all for my strugglers this week, unless you count overachieving Spezia’s dumping Bologna out of the Coppa Italia (a win, sure, but I’m not really covering the cups).

We also had two ‘re-entries’ into the drop zone, with Arminia and Fulham slipping back after all five sides have briefly been out of their respective bottom threes. Here’s how a relatively quiet week went down…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 2-3 at home to Everton

Everton scored with pretty much the first meaningful bit of play in this game, and that pretty much sums up how fit for the premier league Fulham have been so far.

In fairness, for all that awful start, Fulham conjured up quite a lot against an Everton team who should have been out of sight, given how much they were creating.

Another awful penalty miss cost them, though, and coming back from 3-1 was always going to be a big ask against one of the form teams in the premier league. They still hang on outside the drop zone, but it’s hard to see that lasting with Leicester, Man City and Liverpool the next three (it didn’t Burnley won on Monday – Ed).

Long shots: a mixed bag before the break (week 9)

Week 9 of the season, and my oddball selection of sides have hit a relegation market, a collective 40 points, Sure, that’s not going to keep any one of them up individually, but it’s all going surprisingly well so far, with no sides at all in the drop zone.

That said, on some fronts the strain is starting to show. Here’s the latest ahead of the international break…

Bundesliga: Arminia Bielefeld (5/6 on to be relegated) 0-5 away to Union Berlin

A confession: Union Berlin are a side I have a real soft spot for, having seen them live before they were anywhere near the Bundesliga, and taken a liking to the political activism of their fans. I’ve committed myself to Arminia for the season, though, and this particular loss is a terrible sign.

Arminia had been on a bad run, but against good sides, which makes it somewhat excusable before now, but this was a real thrashing. Union were two up in a little over a quarter of an hour, and Bielefeld didn’t create anything in the whole game even worthy of the highlights reel.

They’re still outside the drop zone. Just, thanks to the three sides in the Bundesliga yet to grab even one win.

Sophie Doyle-Ryder: “I find writing a form of therapy and always write about real situations”

Sophie Doyle-Ryder, photo by Ray Keogh

Malahide singer-songwriter Sophie Doyle-Ryder is only four singles old, but already drawing comparisons with the likes of Anne-Marie and Ariane Grande, having reached number 9 on the Irish radio play charts with her third single ‘Too Much’.

Her music is vibrant, atmospheric pop, and she’s well-placed to make an impact, having teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer Billy Farrell for latest single ‘Little Black Book’. I caught up with Sophie to see how her lockdown is going…

I guess given you were releasing music at the age of just 17, it’s clear that music is a huge part of your life. How have you developed your sound?

I feel I developed my sound by trial and error really. It’s all about trying new things and finding what suits you well! It may take a long time or a short time it all just depends! I find writing a form of therapy and always write about real situations; either mine or my friends’ experience.

Can you tell me a little about ‘Little Black Book’ and how it came together?

Little Black Book is a women’s empowerment song, it is one of my favourites by far! It’s all about being good on your own and almost using people to your advantage. Knowing that you have boys, but only if you want them! It’s so fun and cheeky, I love it.

How many tracks do you have behind the scenes and ready to go – are there EPs or albums on the horizon, for example?

I will release a few more singles before then. I have a good few tracks ready to go! However, it might be another while until an ep and album comes. I want to make it really special.

Have you reflected on your music and changed anything during lockdown?

I feel like I’ve found my sound more than ever during covid lockdowns! I’ve really enjoyed the creative process of music even more because I just feel so established as an artist.